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Inside the Psychedelic Skyscraper City of the Future

“Speculative architect” and Russian futurist Egor Orlov tells The Creators Project about his modular, hallucinatory future city.
August 1, 2015, 12:30pm
Cybertopia. Death of analogous cities. Courtesy of Egor Orlov.

If a science fiction author, a comic book illustrator, and an architect cross-bred the mesmerizing cityscapes found in Alejandro Jodorowsky and Moebius’ The Incal with the Rogue City seen in the film A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, they might come close to something like Egor Orlov’s futuristic city, Cybertopia.

Orlov describes this municipality as a series of megalopolises housed in what is, for lack of a better term, a monolithic skyscraper. It is a structure that can mutate like those cities built and altered inside Minecraft.

A self-described “speculative architect” operating between design, fiction, and futures, Orlov is interested in imagining the topographies of future cities. In his mind, a future city should resemble the digital landscape of a computer game. On top of that, it should constantly move on a number of spatial grids. And like a computer program, Cybertopia would experience bugs and glitches where real and virtual objects and landscapes collide.

Orlov tells The Creators Project that Cybertopia is part of his diploma project at KSUAE (Kazn State University of Architecture and Engineering), titled Future of an architecture space. Cybertopia. Death of analogous cities. It is, he promises, not the work of a “mad surgeon,” but the most likely design of the “tomorrow city.” Cybertopia recently took third place in eVolo’s 2015 Skyscraper Competition.

Programming of the future city. Courtesy of Egor Orlov.

“I believe we could consider the megalopolis skyscraper as the system of a living organism,” Orlov says; one that works by existing architectural principles, but also by design and engineering principles that don’t currently exist in reality. In Cybertopia, a new cityscape will emerge; one where cyber worlds have their own geographies, laws of physics, residents, and other “unique qualities.”

“The format of such a city can be compared to the movement of a person on an escalator when he or she is deprived of a natural line of the horizon,” says Orlov. “The artificial horizon is mobile and formed simultaneously in several spatial planes,” with the support of additional spatial grids.

Program components of the future city. Courtesy of Egor Orlov.

One way of understanding Cybertopia is to think of a typical city—say, New York City. People, buildings, roads and so on move horizontally and vertically, but, apart from escalators, never move in any other directions. In Cybertopia, the landscape could move in any direction at any time. Orlov’s skyscraper city is in that way truly modular. It would, in other words, always be in flux and could become literally anything imaginable—both by the human brain and artificial intelligence.

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Cranes would move pieces of the city around the skyscraper, and huge airships could become blocks of the skyscraper, but also detach and dock elsewhere. On some of these ships, Orlov—perhaps satirically—sees “immigrant workers” weaving goods for the city. Other ships would serve as suppliers of housing construction materials. From one day to the next, streets and blocks would never look or function the same.

Experimental architectural combinations. Reference points of new topography of the future megalopolis. Courtesy of Egor Orlov.

In Cybertopia, the wealthy could “order” surprising engineering combinations from what Orlov calls “modern clown conjurers” for the amusement of tourists. Water would irrigate buildings not from the top down, but from below upward. Orlov also envisions an “International Statue of Roger Rabbit (ISRR)” that bends time and space according to its angle of rotation, using a “City Lamp” to artificially turn day into night and vice versa. The second floor could be set to midnight, for instance, while on the fifth floor it could be 2:43 PM.

Paths from grain crumbs. New topography of the future city. Cyberlandscapes. Courtesy of Egor Orlov.

Like everything else in Cybertopia, the city skyscraper’s residents would also constantly be updated and interchangeable. Residents wouldn’t have relationships with families or neighbors. Rather, like a video game, Cybertopia’s population would also be refreshed every minute, hour, day or month, all of them running down endless halls toward a prize that no one would ever win: the 104th floor, a small “fairy forest” where trees make tablets and antibiotics; fog is made out of 3D projections; and unreal goods become real.

On the 483th floor—the top and northernmost point of Cybertopia—is the city’s “lobby of arrival,” where foreigners descend from airliners. The space’s walls are outfitted with signs that read “No Tweeting, No Facebook, No Instagram, No Foursquare, No Sexting: respect the food, the music and the company you’re in.” Once undressed (yes, undressed), tourists jump into the lobby’s pool and, as Orlov explains, Cybertopia’s story begins anew.

Model of potential transformations of a housing estate. Courtesy of Egor Orlov.

While all of this sounds speculative, to say the least, Orlov is committed to the idea of Cybertopia. If in the future, cities blend the real world with virtual and augmented ones to the point that people cannot tell them apart, and architects see just how far they can take moveable, modular designs, Orlov’s city skyscraper won't seem so unreal after all. For him, it is about giving the skyscraper and cities of the future the limitless sense of creation found in fiction and video games. Nothing would be static.

“We need to invent new languages and tools today to work with tomorrow lands,” Orlov says. What is also true is that we need more creative minds like Orlov’s who can imagine the evolving cityscapes of tomorrow.

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